Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gaza's Energy Bonanza Driving International Power Struggle


The Great Game in the Holy Land: How Gazan Natural Gas Became the Epicenter of An International Power Struggle

by Michael Schwartz  - TomDispatch

 

Guess what? Almost all the current wars, uprisings, and other conflicts in the Middle East are connected by a single thread, which is also a threat: these conflicts are part of an increasingly frenzied competition to find, extract, and market fossil fuels whose future consumption is guaranteed to lead to a set of cataclysmic environmental crises.

Amid the many fossil-fueled conflicts in the region, one of them, packed with threats, large and small, has been largely overlooked, and Israel is at its epicenter. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1990s when Israeli and Palestinian leaders began sparring over rumored natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gaza. In the ensuing decades, it has grown into a many-fronted conflict involving several armies and three navies. In the process, it has already inflicted mindboggling misery on tens of thousands of Palestinians, and it threatens to add future layers of misery to the lives of people in Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Eventually, it might even immiserate Israelis.

Resource wars are, of course, nothing new. Virtually the entire history of Western colonialism and post-World War II globalization has been animated by the effort to find and market the raw materials needed to build or maintain industrial capitalism. This includes Israel's expansion into, and appropriation of, Palestinian lands. But fossil fuels only moved to center stage in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the 1990s, and that initially circumscribed conflict only spread to include Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Russia after 2010.

Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Israel, Gaza, and Energy Wars in the Middle East

Talk of an oil glut and a potential further price drop seems to be growing. The cost of a barrel of crude now sits at just under $60, only a little more than half what it was at its most recent peak in June 2014. Meanwhile, under a barrel of woes, economies like China's have slowed and in the process demand for oil has sagged globally. And yet, despite the cancellation of some future plans for exploration and drilling for extreme (and so extremely expensive) forms of fossil fuels, startling numbers of barrels of crude are still pouring onto troubled waters. For this, a thanks should go to the prodigious efforts of "Saudi America" (all that energetic hydraulic fracking, among other things), while the actual Saudis, the original ones, are still pumping away. We could, in other words, have arrived not at "peak oil" but at "peak oil demand" for at least a significant period of time to come. At Bloomberg View, columnist A. Gary Shilling has even suggested that the price of crude could ultimately simply collapse under the weight of all that production and a global economic slowdown, settling in at $10-$20 a barrel (a level last seen in the 1990s).

And here's the saddest part of this story: no matter what happens, the great game over energy and the resource conflicts and wars that go with it show little sign of slowing down. One thing is guaranteed: no matter how low the price falls, the scramble for sources of oil and the demand for yet more of them won't stop. Even in this country, as the price of oil has dropped, the push for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring expensive-to-extract and especially carbon-dirty Canadian "tar sands" to market on the U.S. Gulf Coast has only grown more fervent, while the Obama administration has just opened the country's southern Atlantic coastal waters to future exploration and drilling. In the oil heartlands of the planet, Iraq and Kurdistan typically continue to fight over who will get the (reduced) revenues from the oil fields around the city of Kirkuk to stanch various financial crises. In the meantime, other oil disputes only heat up.

Among them is one that has gotten remarkably little attention even as it has grown more intense and swept up ever more countries. This is the quarter-century-old struggle over natural gas deposits off the coast of Gaza as well as elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. That never-ending conflict provides a remarkable and grim lens through which to view so many recent aspects of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and long-time TomDispatch regular Michael Schwartz offers a panoramic look at it here for the first time.

By the way, following the news that 2014 set a global heat record, those of us freezing on the East Coast of the U.S. this winter might be surprised to learn that the first month of 2015 proved to be the second hottest January on record. And when you're on such a record-setting pace, why stop struggling to extract yet more fossil fuels? Tom

The Great Game in the Holy Land: How Gazan Natural Gas Became the Epicenter of An International Power Struggle

by Michael Schwartz

 

The Poisonous History of Gazan Natural Gas


Back in 1993, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the Oslo Accords that were supposed to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and create a sovereign state, nobody was thinking much about Gaza's coastline. As a result, Israel agreed that the newly created PA would fully control its territorial waters, even though the Israeli navy was still patrolling the area. Rumored natural gas deposits there mattered little to anyone, because prices were then so low and supplies so plentiful. No wonder that the Palestinians took their time recruiting British Gas (BG) -- a major player in the global natural gas sweepstakes -- to find out what was actually there. Only in 2000 did the two parties even sign a modest contract to develop those by-then confirmed fields.

BG promised to finance and manage their development, bear all the costs, and operate the resulting facilities in exchange for 90% of the revenues, an exploitative but typical "profit-sharing" agreement. With an already functioning natural gas industry, Egypt agreed to be the on-shore hub and transit point for the gas. The Palestinians were to receive 10% of the revenues (estimated at about a billion dollars in total) and were guaranteed access to enough gas to meet their needs.

Had this process moved a little faster, the contract might have been implemented as written. In 2000, however, with a rapidly expanding economy, meager fossil fuels, and terrible relations with its oil-rich neighbors, Israel found itself facing a chronic energy shortage. Instead of attempting to answer its problem with an aggressive but feasible effort to develop renewable sources of energy, Prime Minister Ehud Barak initiated the era of Eastern Mediterranean fossil fuel conflicts. He brought Israel's naval control of Gazan coastal waters to bear and nixed the deal with BG. Instead, he demanded that Israel, not Egypt, receive the Gaza gas and that it also control all the revenues destined for the Palestinians -- to prevent the money from being used to "fund terror."

With this, the Oslo Accords were officially doomed. By declaring Palestinian control over gas revenues unacceptable, the Israeli government committed itself to not accepting even the most limited kind of Palestinian budgetary autonomy, let alone full sovereignty. Since no Palestinian government or organization would agree to this, a future filled with armed conflict was assured.

The Israeli veto led to the intervention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sought to broker an agreement that would satisfy both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. The result: a 2007 proposal that would have delivered the gas to Israel, not Egypt, at below-market prices, with the same 10% cut of the revenues eventually reaching the PA. However, those funds were first to be delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York for future distribution, which was meant to guarantee that they would not be used for attacks on Israel.

This arrangement still did not satisfy the Israelis, who pointed to the recent victory of the militant Hamas party in Gaza elections as a deal-breaker. Though Hamas had agreed to let the Federal Reserve supervise all spending, the Israeli government, now led by Ehud Olmert, insisted that no "royalties be paid to the Palestinians." Instead, the Israelis would deliver the equivalent of those funds "in goods and services."

This offer the Palestinian government refused. Soon after, Olmert imposed a draconian blockade on Gaza, which Israel's defense minister termed a form of "'economic warfare' that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas." With Egyptian cooperation, Israel then seized control of all commerce in and out of Gaza, severely limiting even food imports and eliminating its fishing industry. As Olmert advisor Dov Weisglass summed up this agenda, the Israeli government was putting the Palestinians "on a diet" (which, according to the Red Cross, soon produced "chronic malnutrition," especially among Gazan children).

When the Palestinians still refused to accept Israel's terms, the Olmert government decided to unilaterally extract the gas, something that, they believed, could only occur once Hamas had been displaced or disarmed. As former Israel Defense Forces commander and current Foreign Minister Moshe Ya'alon explained, "Hamas... has confirmed its capability to bomb Israel's strategic gas and electricity installations... It is clear that, without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement."

Following this logic, Operation Cast Lead was launched in the winter of 2008. According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, it was intended to subject Gaza to a "shoah" (the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster). Yoav Galant, the commanding general of the Operation, said that it was designed to "send Gaza decades into the past." As Israeli parliamentarian Tzachi Hanegbi explained, the specific military goal was "to topple the Hamas terror regime and take over all the areas from which rockets are fired on Israel."

Operation Cast Lead did indeed "send Gaza decades into the past." Amnesty International reported that the 22-day offensive killed 1,400 Palestinians, "including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins." The only problem: Operation Cast Lead did not achieve its goal of "transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel."

More Sources of Gas Equal More Resource Wars


In 2009, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inherited the stalemate around Gaza's gas deposits and an Israeli energy crisis that only grew more severe when the Arab Spring in Egypt interrupted and then obliterated 40% of the country's gas supplies. Rising energy prices soon contributed to the largest protests involving Jewish Israelis in decades.

As it happened, however, the Netanyahu regime also inherited a potentially permanent solution to the problem. An immense field of recoverable natural gas was discovered in the Levantine Basin, a mainly offshore formation under the eastern Mediterranean. Israeli officials immediately asserted that "most" of the newly confirmed gas reserves lay "within Israeli territory." In doing so, they ignored contrary claims by Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and the Palestinians.

In some other world, this immense gas field might have been effectively exploited by the five claimants jointly, and a production plan might even have been put in place to ameliorate the environmental impact of releasing a future 130 trillion cubic feet of gas into the planet's atmosphere. However, as Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry journal Petrostrategies, observed, "All the elements of danger are there... This is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual."

In the three years that followed the discovery, Terzian's warning seemed ever more prescient. Lebanon became the first hot spot. In early 2011, the Israeli government announced the unilateral development of two fields, about 10% of that Levantine Basin gas, which lay in disputed offshore waters near the Israeli-Lebanese border. Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil immediately threatened a military confrontation, asserting that his country would "not allow Israel or any company working for Israeli interests to take any amount of our gas that is falling in our zone." Hezbollah, the most aggressive political faction in Lebanon, promised rocket attacks if "a single meter" of natural gas was extracted from the disputed fields.

Israel's Resource Minister accepted the challenge, asserting that "[t]hese areas are within the economic waters of Israel... We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law."

Oil industry journalist Terzian offered this analysis of the realities of the confrontation:

"In practical terms... nobody is going to invest with Lebanon in disputed waters. There are no Lebanese companies there capable of carrying out the drilling, and there is no military force that could protect them. But on the other side, things are different. You have Israeli companies that have the ability to operate in offshore areas, and they could take the risk under the protection of the Israeli military."

Sure enough, Israel continued its exploration and drilling in the two disputed fields, deploying drones to guard the facilities. Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government invested major resources in preparing for possible future military confrontations in the area. For one thing, with lavish U.S. funding, it developed the "Iron Dome" anti-missile defense system designed in part to intercept Hezbollah and Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli energy facilities. It also expanded the Israeli navy, focusing on its ability to deter or repel threats to offshore energy facilities. Finally, starting in 2011 it launched airstrikes in Syria designed, according to U.S. officials, "to prevent any transfer of advanced... antiaircraft, surface-to-surface and shore-to-ship missiles" to Hezbollah.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah continued to stockpile rockets capable of demolishing Israeli facilities. And in 2013, Lebanon made a move of its own. It began negotiating with Russia. The goal was to get that country's gas firms to develop Lebanese offshore claims, while the formidable Russian navy would lend a hand with the "long-running territorial dispute with Israel."

By the beginning of 2015, a state of mutual deterrence appeared to be setting in. Although Israel had succeeded in bringing online the smaller of the two fields it set out to develop, drilling in the larger one was indefinitely stalled "in light of the security situation." U.S. contractor Noble Energy, hired by the Israelis, was unwilling to invest the necessary $6 billion in facilities that would be vulnerable to Hezbollah attack, and potentially in the gun sights of the Russian navy. On the Lebanese side, despite an increased Russian naval presence in the region, no work had begun.

Meanwhile, in Syria, where violence was rife and the country in a state of armed collapse, another kind of stalemate went into effect. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, facing a ferocious threat from various groups of jihadists, survived in part by negotiating massive military support from Russia in exchange for a 25-year contract to develop Syria's claims to that Levantine gas field. Included in the deal was a major expansion of the Russian naval base at the port city of Tartus, ensuring a far larger Russian naval presence in the Levantine Basin.

While the presence of the Russians apparently deterred the Israelis from attempting to develop any Syrian-claimed gas deposits, there was no Russian presence in Syria proper. So Israel contracted with the U.S.-based Genie Energy Corporation to locate and develop oil fields in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by the Israelis since 1967. Facing a potential violation of international law, the Netanyahu government invoked, as the basis for its acts, an Israeli court ruling that the exploitation of natural resources in occupied territories was legal. At the same time, to prepare for the inevitable battle with whichever faction or factions emerged triumphant from the Syrian civil war, it began shoring up the Israeli military presence in the Golan Heights.

And then there was Cyprus, the only Levantine claimant not at war with Israel. Greek Cypriots had long been in chronic conflict with Turkish Cypriots, so it was hardly surprising that the Levantine natural gas discovery triggered three years of deadlocked negotiations on the island over what to do. In 2014, the Greek Cypriots signed an exploration contract with Noble Energy, Israel's chief contractor. The Turkish Cypriots trumped this move by signing a contract with Turkey to explore all Cypriot claims "as far as Egyptian waters." Emulating Israel and Russia, the Turkish government promptly moved three navy vessels into the area to physically block any intervention by other claimants.

As a result, four years of maneuvering around the newly discovered Levantine Basin deposits have produced little energy, but brought new and powerful claimants into the mix, launched a significant military build-up in the region, and heightened tensions immeasurably.

Gaza Again -- and Again


Remember the Iron Dome system, developed in part to stop Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel's northern gas fields? Over time, it was put in place near the border with Gaza to stop Hamas rockets, and was tested during Operation Returning Echo, the fourth Israeli military attempt to bring Hamas to heel and eliminate any Palestinian "capability to bomb Israel's strategic gas and electricity installations."

Launched in March 2012, it replicated on a reduced scale the devastation of Operation Cast Lead, while the Iron Dome achieved a 90% "kill rate" against Hamas rockets. Even this, however, while a useful adjunct to the vast shelter system built to protect Israeli civilians, was not enough to ensure the protection of the country's exposed oil facilities. Even one direct hit there could damage or demolish such fragile and flammable structures.

The failure of Operation Returning Echo to settle anything triggered another round of negotiations, which once again stalled over the Palestinian rejection of Israel's demand to control all fuel and revenues destined for Gaza and the West Bank. The new Palestinian Unity government then followed the lead of the Lebanese, Syrians, and Turkish Cypriots, and in late 2013 signed an "exploration concession" with Gazprom, the huge Russian natural gas company. As with Lebanon and Syria, the Russian Navy loomed as a potential deterrent to Israeli interference.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a new round of energy blackouts caused "chaos" across Israel, triggering a draconian 47% increase in electricity prices. In response, the Netanyahu government considered a proposal to begin extracting domestic shale oil, but the potential contamination of water resources caused a backlash movement that frustrated this effort. In a country filled with start-up high-tech firms, the exploitation of renewable energy sources was still not being given serious attention. Instead, the government once again turned to Gaza.

With Gazprom's move to develop the Palestinian-claimed gas deposits on the horizon, the Israelis launched their fifth military effort to force Palestinian acquiescence, Operation Protective Edge. It had two major hydrocarbon-related goals: to deter Palestinian-Russian plans and to finally eliminate the Gazan rocket systems. The first goal was apparently met when Gazprom postponed (perhaps permanently) its development deal. The second, however, failed when the two-pronged land and air attack -- despite unprecedented devastation in Gaza -- failed to destroy Hamas's rocket stockpiles or its tunnel-based assembly system; nor did the Iron Dome achieve the sort of near-perfect interception rate needed to protect proposed energy installations.

There Is No Denouement


After 25 years and five failed Israeli military efforts, Gaza's natural gas is still underwater and, after four years, the same can be said for almost all of the Levantine gas. But things are not the same. In energy terms, Israel is ever more desperate, even as it has been building up its military, including its navy, in significant ways. The other claimants have, in turn, found larger and more powerful partners to help reinforce their economic and military claims. All of this undoubtedly means that the first quarter-century of crisis over eastern Mediterranean natural gas has been nothing but prelude. Ahead lies the possibility of bigger gas wars with the devastation they are likely to bring.

Michael Schwartz, an emeritus distinguished teaching professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, is a TomDispatch regular and the author of the award-winning books Radical Protest and Social Structure and The Power Structure of American Business (with Beth Mintz). His TomDispatch book, War Without End, focused on how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq. His email address is Michael.Schwartz@stonybrook.edu.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Michael Schwartz

Rewilding: Bringing the Jungle Back to Journalism

Feral Journalism - Rewilding Dissent

by David Edwards - Media Lens




One of the weirdest features of contemporary culture is the way even the best corporate journalists write as though under enemy occupation. Journalists admit, even in public, but particularly in private, that there is much they just cannot say.

As Noam Chomsky has noted, the best investigative reporters 'regard the media as a sham' trying to 'play it like a violin: If they see a little opening they'll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn't make it through'.

Of course, the truth of the sham is one of the 'tunes' that doesn't get played. While not typically subject to Big Brother-style threats, journalists are keenly aware that they can be swiftly 'disappeared' by the grey, profit-oriented suits draped in hierarchical chains above them.

To his credit, George Monbiot is one of the better journalists who seriously wrestles with his conscience on these issues. The crisis apparent in his writing and in his reaction to criticism – Media Lens 'drives me bananas', he says - is characteristic of someone trying, and failing, to overcome the limits on free speech.

Writing in the Guardian, Monbiot rails against 'the rotten state of journalism' and confesses: 'I hadn't understood just how quickly standards are falling'.

It is a classic moment of semi-quixotic, Monbiotic dissent. The 'rotten state of journalism' could be a reference to the inherent contradictions of a corporate 'free press', the Guardian included. On the other hand, the article has been carefully titled, 'Our "impartial" broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite.' (Our emphasis)

And who is the target when Monbiot notes that 'those who are supposed to scrutinise the financial and political elite are embedded within it. Many belong to a service-sector aristocracy, wedded metaphorically (sometimes literally) to finance. Often unwittingly, they amplify the voices of the elite, while muffling those raised against it'?

These criticisms could also implicate the 'quality' liberal press. But Monbiot quickly scurries down to lower moral ground by supplying specific examples from, who else?, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and everyone's favourite media punch bag, the BBC. The Beeb, of course, is sufficiently different from the Guardian to spare the latter's blushes.

As Monbiot says, the BBC 'grovels to business leaders', supplying '"a Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world"'. And this, he notes archly, 'is where people turn when they don't trust the corporate press'. Again, this widens the target for a brief moment before Monbiot concludes:

'Those entrusted to challenge power are the loyalists of power. They rage against social media and people such as Russell Brand, without seeing that the popularity of alternatives is a response to their own failures'.

But he points away from his own employer:

'If even the public sector broadcasters parrot the talking points of the elite, what hope is there for informed democratic choice?'

The concluding comments are ironic indeed, for while the Guardian does host Brand's output, it has also led the ferocious liberal assault on his reputation, as we noted here. And it has performed the same role in attacking Julian Assange, Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky and many other dissidents.

On the face of it, Monbiot would appear to be rationally and ethically obliged to remind his readers that the paper hosting his condemnation of broadcast media is itself a prime example of the problem he is describing. We tweeted him:

'"Those entrusted to challenge power are the loyalists of power." Isn't that also true of Guardian/Independent journalists?'

And:

'Also true of journos who write, "Our broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite", without mentioning their own media?'

Monbiot did not respond. A fellow tweeter, however, chirruped back:


'undoubtedly true, but even GM [Monbiot] can't stop sea levels rise. Besides, no job no platform. He's an ally, even if works for Graun.'

And:

'GM written an article I am sure you agree with? Unrealistic to expect direct criticism of his employer. Be happy!'

This is pretty much what we receive every time we challenge a 'mainstream' dissident: they are doing their best within the constraints of the system; we should support rather than criticise them.

From this perspective, rational questions, even polite challenges, are viewed as a betrayal of 'solidarity'. This might be arguable if the world was making steady, positive progress rather than hurtling to hell in a climate-denying handcart. But anyway, as Glenn Greenwald writes:

'Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement.'

A Feral Roar From The New York Times


In the same week, in a piece published in the New York Times, Monbiot writes:

'Live free or die: This is the maxim of our age. But the freedoms we celebrate are particular and limited.'

True enough. And ironic indeed, given the limited freedoms celebrated by Monbiot in the Guardian that very week. He continues:

'Even the freedoms we do possess we tend not to exercise... It's no wonder, when we possess and use it so little, that we make a fetish out of freedom.'

Monbiot seems to supply an example of frustrated freedom fetishism in describing his own peak experience:

'I felt it most keenly when I stumbled across the fresh corpse of a deer in a wood. I hoisted it onto my shoulders. As soon as I felt its warmth on my back, my skin flushed, my hair stood on end and I wanted to roar. Civilization slid off like a bathrobe... These experiences ignited in me a smoldering longing for a richer and rawer life than the one I lead.'

How readers smoulder and long for a feral 'roar' of honesty from Monbiot on the role of the Guardian, Independent, New York Times and other liberal media in creating the catastrophe that is corporate, no-choice 'democracy', 'responsibility to protect' foreign policy and climate-killing corporate terrorism. But, like most people, we do understand the silence because the price paid would likely be high.

In truth, the brightest and best of corporate journalism, Monbiot included, have played a key role in persuading readers to continue perceiving advert- and corporate entertainment-drenched newspapers as 'normal'. They have kept us buying into this 'safe', toxic, deeply disempowering state-corporate version of journalism, reality and dissent.

Monbiot calls for 'a partial rewilding' of our lives, one that 'allows us to step into a world that is not controlled and regulated' to 'recover some measure of the freedom that has been denied to us'.

Absolutely, and domesticated journalism should lead the way.

So what would a 'rewilding' of journalism look like? Where could a genuinely 'feral' Monbiotic keyboard roar loudest?

Rewilding Journalism


The freely-given support we receive – often expressed in the form of spontaneous, unsolicited donations every time we send a media alert or cogitation – tells us that the public is desperate for an alternative to the crass demeritocracy of corporate journalism. With no profile and very little outreach, we are able to work full-time and rarely send direct appeals for support.

It seems to us that the public is sick to the back teeth of corporate media pretending to supply the truth and nothing but, while miraculously satisfying the fanatical demands of media moguls, corporate advertisers, parent companies, supportive state news sources and other business allies. What a pitiful lie this is!

Many readers are aware, on some level, that the profit motive distorts and cheapens every last thing offered by a 'mainstream' media system that in fact represents the extreme viewpoint of 0.1% of the population.

Any given journalist might not give a damn about antagonising the White House, BP, or the Royal Family, but he or she knows that the host media does and must care. So all corporate media output marinades in an environment of 'caution', 'respectability' and self-preservational second-guessing. 'Je suis Charlie Hebdo' aside, write or say anything construed as 'offensive' or 'outrageous' by the wrong people, and a vast state-corporate, reputational wrecking ball can be mobilised. Anyone can be made a pariah, and journalists and corporate media entities cannot afford the consequences.

To reiterate, we know from our own experience that the public is not indifferent to this - people are very keen to support something positive to change this disastrous status quo. But how to do it? Political parties, corporate media, human rights organisations, and of course organised religions, are almost all fatally compromised. What the public really wants is an inspirational, uncompromised cause that will genuinely challenge state-corporate power and propaganda.

It may sound like wild fantasy, but we can imagine a collective of high-profile writers and journalists willing to detach themselves from corporate and state media, and to place themselves entirely at the mercy of the public.

Two points would be absolutely key for the success of such an initiative: journalistic output should be completely free of charge to the public, a gift; and it should be openly presented as a declaration of intellectual war on the corporate media. Not in any vindictive way – the intention would be to offer an example of honest journalism based on selfless generosity as a contrast to the compromised, greed-based corporate media.

Imagine if George Monbiot, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, David Peterson, Jonathan Cook, Mark Curtis, Glenn Greenwald, Nafeez Ahmed, Robert Fisk, Naomi Klein, Russell Brand, Michael Moore, Julian Assange, Chris Hedges, Sharon Beder, Seumas Milne and others rejected the media moguls, billionaires, parent companies and advertisers, and offered their work completely free of charge from a single media outlet. Would the global public be willing to support such a group, such a cause, through donations? The answer, we think, is blindingly obvious.

As the world continues to slide into the climate change abyss, is it not at least worth the attempt to suck as much dissident talent and reflected credibility as possible out of the corporate media and use it instead to expose these media with unleashed insider knowledge?

Please understand that this strategy has never been attempted – even the very best dissidents have tempered their criticism in a conscious attempt to gain access to a wider audience through corporate media. Even at this late stage of the human crisis, no-holds-barred criticism of the 'quality' corporate media has simply never been attempted in an organised, high-profile form.

We believe the internet makes the global outreach and required level of donations achievable. The support would be vast, if the journalism was free, and if it offered a genuine, uncompromising challenge to the corporate stranglehold.

DE

Grexitcan Standoff: How Syriza Dropped the Quick Draw Ball

Showdown in Athens

by Mike Whitney - CounterPunch


“Will the United States, Germany, the rest of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – collectively constituting the International Mafia – allow the new Greek leaders of the Syriza party to dictate the conditions of Greece’s rescue and salvation? The answer at the moment is a decided “No”.  — William Blum, The Greek Tragedy, CounterPunch

“The Greek economy is finished…. There is no power, no force within the Greek economy, within Greek society that can avert – it’s like – imagine if we were in Ohio in 1931 and we were to ask: What can Ohio politicians do to get Ohio out of the Great Depression? The answer is nothing.”  — Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Finance Minister


A disagreement over the terms of a deal to provide a bailout extension for Greece, has set the stage for a final clash between the Eurogroup and members of the Greek ruling party, Syriza. Although the agreement was approved on Tuesday when a list of reforms were submitted by Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to the Eurogroup, Varoufakis believes that changes to the original program give him greater flexibility to implement policies that will end austerity, reduce the ailing country’s primary budget surplus, and ease the humanitarian crisis that has persisted for 6 years.

Regrettably, no one at the ECB, the European Commission or the IMF shares Varoufakis’s views on the subject. The so called “troika” thinks that Greece has signed on to essentially the same program that was in place before the negotiations, give or take a few cosmetic changes in the language. And because the program is the same, they think Varoufakis should stick with the same policies as his predecessor and ignore mounting public opposition to austerity. Given the irreconcilable differences between the two parties, there’s bound to be a violent confrontation in the near future that will lead to heated recriminations and, eventually, a Grexit.

To illustrate the widening chasm between Varoufakis and the members of the Eurogroup, consider the fact that, going into the negotiations, Varoufakis was determined to end the bailouts and secure a “bridge” loan that would shield Greece from default for a six month period of adjustment after which basic changes to the current austerity regime would be re-negotiated. While the Eurogroup agreed to change the term “program” to “agreement” and “troika” to “institutions”, in the minds of the EU finance minsters, the substance of the original deal, which was laid out in the hated Memorandum of Understanding, remained the same. Take a look at this excerpt from a letter from ECB president Mario Draghi and Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem and you’ll see how this is playing out:

“I assume that it is clear, that the basis of concluding the current review, and also any future arrangements, will be the existing commitments in the current Memorandum of Understanding and The Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP). In this context we note that the commitments outlined by the authorities differ from existing programme commitments in a number of areas. In such cases, we will have to assess during the review whether measures which are not accepted by the authorities are replaced with measures of equal or better quality in terms of achieving the objectives of the programme.” (Naked Capitalism)

What Draghi is saying is that Varoufakis’s changes will be put under a microscope to see if they conform with the memorandum which Varoufakis believes no longer applies. The way this will work on a practical basis, is that additional money will only be meted out incrementally depending on compliance with, you guessed it, the old agreement. In other words, Varoufakis will not have a 4 month grace period to experiment with his pro-growth, anti-austerity economic policies. He’ll be expected to toe the line from Day 1.

Varoufakis either doesn’t understand what he signed or thinks he can implement his own plan without too much interference from the Eurogroup. Either way, there’s probably going to be a confrontation given the vast disparity in the way the agreement is being interpreted. In a Tuesday interview with CNBC, Varoufakis said that the new deal is fundamentally different than the previous agreement. He said:

“Some people have been insisting that the program that we’ve been under must surely be the program that we shall remain under simply refuse to understand that this has changed. So they keep insisting that that program is still on-going. Let me give you a very simple number. The program that we challenged compelled to the Greek government to extract 4.5% of the primary surplus every year in a depressed economy. We’ve changed that. Now surely that is not dismissed as simply a non-event and it’s business as usual, so it’s not business as usual we have a fresh start and now what matters is to use the opportunity of that fresh start in order to build something good on top of it. And we will endeavor to do this.” (“CNBC Exclusive Interview: Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, CNBC)

See? He sincerely believes that the old deal is history. But the troika, the Eurogroup, and the majority of people who have analyzed the new arrangement, disagree. They think everything is the same (which explains why critics on the right and left have repudiated the deal as a “climb-down, a capitulation and a sellout.)

In an interview with Nikos Hatzinikolaou on REAL FM, Greece, Varoufakis rejected the Memorandum while claiming that the new agreement represents “a huge success’ in ending the “recessionary measures” that are needlessly prolonging Greece’s Great Depression.

Here’s what he said:

Varoufakis: “The current government (Syriza) wants to say things with their name. I will explain it to you in very simple terms, Mr. Hatzinikolaou. As long as our debt is what it is, as long as Greece was bounded within this iron cage of primary surpluses that were impossible to achieve without killing whatever is left in the private sector, and as long we have a negative sign in investments (essentially, real investments), it was impossible to achieve this exit.
What we are trying to do – and have succeeded in doing so; it was a huge success, I’d say – is to create a four-month bridge during which we achieve the following:

First, the cancellation of the recessionary measures and the implementation of a transitional program we ourselves have made, one the Greek society will be able to withstand. This will help us negotiate during this four-month period a new contract between us and our partners with the goal of solving this system of three equations with three unknowns.

Hatzinikolaou: Thus, we are talking about a new Memorandum? …
Varoufakis: OK. Let us be careful with the words. What does the Memorandum mean? … Let me remind you of what it comprises. It comprises the logic of continuous domestic [or internal] devaluation, of huge primary surpluses in an economy that does not have a real credit system, where investments are negative, and at the same time where we have a series of measures that empower this recession. This is the MoU. It is the automation, the a-politicization, and the subjection to the crisis.” (“The juicy interview of Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis“, Greek Analyst)

Varoufakis appears to be saying that, in his view, the new agreement constitutes a rejection of the memorandum and, thus, is a de facto repudiation of austerity. The question is whether Varoufakis is stretching the facts to give himself greater latitude to relieve Greece’s humanitarian crisis and to put Greece back on a sound path to growth. While those are worthy goals, they are not likely to win the Eurogroup’s support. Check out this excerpt from a letter from the IMF to Dijsselbloem concerning the vagueness of Varoufakis’s reform package:

“In quite a few areas, however, including perhaps the most important ones, the letter is not conveying clear assurances that the Government intends to undertake the reforms envisaged in the Memorandum on Economic and Financial Policies. We note in particular that there are neither clear commitments to design the envisaged comprehensive pension and VAT policy reforms, nor unequivocal undertakings to continue already-agreed policies for opening up closed sectors, for administrative reforms, for privatization, and for labor market reforms. As you know, we consider such commitments and undertakings to be critical for Greece’s ability to meet the basic objectives of its Fund-supported program, which is why these are the areas subject to most of the structural benchmarks agreed with the Fund.” (Excerpt IMF letter posted at Naked capitalism)

Repeat: “We consider such commitments and undertakings to be critical for Greece’s ability to meet the basic objectives of its Fund-supported program.” In other words, Greece should not expect to get its loan extension unless it follows the troika’s explicit orders on pensions, VAT (sales taxes), government cutbacks, privatization and labor market reforms.

So, what is Varoufakis’s approach to these benchmarks?

Let’s take a look at pension reform. In an interview with CNBC’s Julia Chatterley on Tuesday, Chatterley asked Varoufakis point blank, “So you’re ruling out pension cuts?”

Varoufakis: “Of course over the next four months there will be no such thing.” (CNBC)

How about raising the VAT tax?

Same thing. And in the interview on REAL FM Varoufakis covered the other policies that the troika sees as “critical”. Listen to this exchange:

Hatzinikolaou: My fundamental question about the e-mail is whether or not it entails layoffs in the public sector …, if it entails pension reductions … if it entails wage reductions?

Varoufakis: I will answer to all these questions, since these are very specific questions, and it is best that we speak forthrightly. My answer to all of these questions is NO, in NO WAY.”

Let’s summarize: No pension cuts, no higher VAT taxes, no lower wages for public workers, and no layoffs. While I admire what Varoufakis is suggesting, I can’t figure out how he’s going to convince the troika to give him more money. Apparently, he thinks that streamlining the government and aggressively pursuing tax cheats will do the trick. Or maybe he has something else up his sleeve, like ignoring the terms of the agreement long enough to generate growth in the economy, lower unemployment, and create an improved environment for foreign investment. He might think that that will force the troika to acknowledge that austerity has failed and that pro-growth Keynesian strategies actually produce positive results. Of course, that’s just a guess on my part. It’s impossible to know for sure.

Here’s more of the interview with CNBC:

Varoufakis: “The reason why we have this 4 month period is to re-establish bonds of trust between us and our European partners as well as the IMF in order to build a new, we call it, contract between us and our partners so as to put an end to this spiral, the debt inflationary spiral; reform Greece; and make sure that CNBC doesn’t care about Greece anymore, because we don’t want to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.” (“CNBC Exclusive Interview: Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis”, CNBC)

The “bonds of trust” are going to put to the test if Varoufakis doesn’t comply with the troika’s diktats, that’s for sure.

Varoufakis assumes that the troika doesn’t understand the impact of its belt-tightening policies. He seems to think that the punishment that’s being inflicted on Greece is just the unfortunate byproduct of debt reduction policy and not a deliberate attempt to crush the unions, roll back progressive reforms, decimate the welfare state, and reduce the country to a condition of “permanent colonial dependency.” But that viewpoint is shockingly na├»ve, after all, the IMF has been in the looting biz for a long time and has a pretty good grasp of the effects its toxic policies. They know what they’re doing, just like know that austerity is just a refinement of the “shock doctrine” which is the traditional way the elites exploit crises by imposing harsh, economy-demolishing reforms that only benefit themselves and their class. The men who conjure up these thieving schemes aren’t likely to be hoodwinked by Varoufakis’s vague reforms. They’re going to force Varoufakis to jump through all their respective hoops before he gets one dime of their precious money. Here’s Varoufakis again:

“There is going to be a great deal of toing and froing between us and the institutions and our partners but what we have established through stubborn refusal to succumb to the notion that elections change nothing over the past couple of months or weeks I should say is the notion that this government deserves to have a degree of room for policy-making that allows us to reform Greece and to carry the great multitude out there with us. This is the government for the first time in Greece that has the people behind it and it would be a terrible waste not just for us but for our partners to allow this wave of support to dissipate through non-action.” (CNBC)

Does Varoufakis really think he can pull this off? Does he really think he can out-fox the slimy, authoritarian brigands and leg-breakers who run these extortionist institutions and who will use every means possible to extract the last drop of blood from their victim be he an aspiring, but penniless student at the university or a destitute pensioner huddling homeless and frozen in an abandoned doorway in downtown Athens?

This isn’t going to end well. Varoufakis had one card to play–the threat of leaving the Euro–and he failed to play it. Now his leverage is gone and the roof is about to cave in. Just wait and see.

The troika isn’t going to convene another dreary round of negotiations to rehash the same old nonsense. Those days are over. They’re simply going to withhold the money, curtail liquidity assistance, and torpedo the Greek banking system. Kaboom! That’s the way this thing is going to go down. The mood among the EZ finance ministers has soured considerably since the last meeting. They want to put this whole thing behind them. They’re sick of it. They want closure. They’re not going to quibble over issues they’ve already gone over and clarified a million times. Varoufakis will either have to get with the program or face the consequences. That’s the way it works in Mafia-land; you either pay the piper or you find yourself in the East River in cement booties.

Who knows: maybe this is what Varoufakis wanted from the beginning, a ferocious clash ending in banishment, a Grexit. Well, he won’t have to wait long now.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bill C-51: A Legal Opinion

Bill C-51: A Legal Primer: Overly broad and unnecessary anti-terrorism reforms could criminalize free speech

by Clayton Ruby and Nader R. Hasan - Policy Alternatives

February 17, 2015

Six Muslim young adults stand in front of a mosque late at night in heated discussion in some foreign language. They may be debating the merits of a new Drake album. They may be talking about video games, or sports, or girls, or advocating the overthrow of the Harper government. Who knows? There is no evidence one way or the other. Just stereotypes. But the new standard for arrest and detention—reason to suspect that they may commit an act—is so low that an officer may be inclined to arrest and detain them in order to investigate further. And now, officers will no longer need to ask themselves whether the arrest is necessary. They could act on mere suspicion that an arrest is likely to prevent any terrorist activity. Yesterday, the Muslim men were freely exercising constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Today they are arrestable.

Overview: The Anti-Terrorism Act


Bill C-51,the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, would expand the powers of Canada’s spy agency, allow Canadians to be arrested on mere suspicion of future criminal activity, allow the Minister of Public Safety to add Canadians to a “no-fly list” with illusory rights of judicial review, and, perhaps most alarmingly, create a new speech-related criminal offence of “promoting” or “advocating” terrorism. These proposed laws are misguided, and many of them are likely also unconstitutional. The bill ought to be rejected as a whole. Repair is impossible.

New offence of promoting terrorism


Bill C-51 creates a new criminal offence that likely violates s. 2(b) of the Charter. Newly proposed s. 83.221 of the Criminal Code provides as follows:

Every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general—other than an offence under this section—while knowing that any of those offences will be committed or being reckless as to whether any of those offences may be committed, as a result of such communication, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.

The new offence will bring within its ambit all kinds of innocent speech, some of which no doubt lies at the core of freedom of expression values that the Charter was meant to protect. As Professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese point out, the new offence would sweep within its net the following scenario:

Take just one hypothetical: An academic or foreign affairs columnists opines “we should provide resources to Ukrainian insurgencies who are targeting Russian oil infrastructure, in an effort to increase the political cost of Russian intervention in Ukraine.” The speaker says this knowing that her audience includes support groups who may be sending money to those opposing Russian intervention.[1]

Providing resources to a group, one of whose purposes is a “terrorist activity,” is a terrorism offence. And causing substantial property damage or serious interference with an essential service or system for a political reason and in a way that endangers life, to compel a government to do something, is a “terrorist activity.” This is so even if it takes place abroad. So a criminal prosecution of the columnist in the hypothetical situation described above is a real possibility under the new law. It is constitutionally unacceptable and dangerous.

The new offence is broader than existing terrorism offences in the Criminal Code in that it does not require an actual terrorist purpose. So someone can be guilty of this offence—like the columnist—despite completely innocent purposes, such as attempting to provoke democratic debate, or proposing a solution to an intractable international conflict. The speaker’s purpose does not matter; they are liable if they are reckless as to the risk that a listener “may” thereafter commit an unspecified terrorism offence.

Criminal culpability would extend beyond the speaker of the impugned words. Like all criminal offences, a person can be guilty if they aid or abet the individual who actually commits the offence. Not only the columnist, but also their editors, publishers and research assistants become criminals.

It should be noted that there are other “promoting” and “advocating” offences in the Criminal Code. The Code contains a prohibition on willful promotion of hatred.[2] It also contains a prohibition on advocating sexual activity with underage children.[3] But hate propaganda and sexual activity with underage children are much narrower than the vague reference to “terrorism offences in general.” In addition, unlike willful promotion of hatred, which contains an express exception for communications made in private, the proposed new offence can be applied to statements made in private. This is all the more concerning given the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) expansive anti-terror wiretap and surveillance powers.[4]

Another truly bizarre aspect of the new offence is the use of the term “terrorism offences in general—other than an offence under this section.” The Criminal Code already contains 14 broadly worded terrorism-related offences. “Terrorism activity” is a defined term under s. 83.01 of the Criminal Code, but this is broader. It applies to more speech than speech advocating or promoting terrorist activity, or the 14 terrorism offences in the Criminal Code. The new offence is meant to include speech promoting and advocating “terrorism in general,” a deliberately opaque and unknowable term.

Even if the government exercises restraint in laying charges and arresting people, the result is an inevitable chill on speech. Students will think twice before posting an article on Facebook questioning military action against insurgents overseas. Journalists will be wary of questioning government decisions to add groups to Canada’s list of terrorist entities.

New CSIS powers


CSIS was created in 1984 by an Act of Parliament. To that point, security intelligence in Canada was the purview of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Security Service.[5] However, in the 1970s there were allegations that the RCMP Security Service had been involved in numerous illegal activities. In 1977, as a result of these allegations, Justice David McDonald was appointed to investigate. The McDonald Commission published its final report in 1981, with its main recommendation being that security intelligence work should be separated from policing, and that a civilian intelligence agency should be created to take over from the RCMP Security Service.[6] CSIS was created to be that civilian intelligence agency. At the time of its creation, CSIS was subject to general oversight review by a new body, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which has been starved of resources, as well as by the Office of the Inspector General, which was abolished and disbanded in 2012.

The idea behind CSIS was that abuses of power were less likely to occur if intelligence gathering was separated from law enforcement. Bill C-51 erodes the distinction between CSIS’s traditional intelligence gathering role by giving it broad new powers to engage in law enforcement–type activities. Under Bill C-51, CSIS would be able to take “measures” to reduce threats to the security of Canada. For example, s. 12.1(1) of the proposed act states,

If there are reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, the Service may take measures, within or outside Canada, to reduce the threat.

The power under s. 12.1 is broadly defined, giving CSIS virtually unfettered authority to conduct any operation it thinks is in the interest of Canadian security. The definitions are so broad that they could apply to almost anything, including measures to disrupt or interfere with non-violent civil disobedience. Only the following activities are explicitly excluded from these new powers, as per s. 12.2(1) of the act:

In taking measures to reduce a threat to the security of Canada, the Service shall not

(a) cause, intentionally or by criminal negligence, death or bodily harm to an individual;

(b) wilfully attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice; or

(c) violate the sexual integrity of an individual.

These limited exclusions leave CSIS with incredibly expansive powers, including water boarding, inflicting pain (torture) or causing psychological harm to an individual. The government has pointed out that in order for CSIS to take measures under s. 12.1, CSIS must first apply for a warrant. Under the warrant provision, a judge may issue a warrant if satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to justify the belief that the requested measures are required to enable CSIS “to reduce a threat to the security of Canada,” and are “reasonabl[e] and proportiona[te].”[7]

This is an odd standard, which judges will find difficult, if not impossible, to apply. The ordinary standard for issuance of a warrant is based on reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence has been committed (in the case of a warrant to arrest)[8] or reasonable grounds to believe that the search of a place will afford evidence of an offence (in the case of a search pursuant to judicial warrant).[9] These are determinations that can be made objectively, based on the evidence, by an impartial judicial officer. By contrast, whether a given measure would proportionately “reduce the threat to the security of Canada” is not like these other tests. It amounts to asking judges to look into a crystal ball to determine if Canada will be safer in the future if a CSIS officer takes some measure. This is not a determination that judges are equipped to make. The limits will vary with the judges chosen by CSIS, not with the evidence.

The expansion of CSIS’s powers is troubling given the RCMP’s notorious history of commingling intelligence gathering and law enforcement. It is also troubling for the additional reason that there is very little oversight of CSIS activities. At present, CSIS is accountable only to the SIRC. CSIS has a budget of over $500 million annually.[10] SIRC has an annual budget of $3 million and is staffed by four part-time committee members.[11] It no longer has a director general who watches the watchers. By contrast, spy agencies in other countries are supervised by powerful parliamentary or congressional committees. The sweeping new powers, coupled with the woeful lack of oversight, risks turning CSIS into a dangerous “secret police force.”

Preventive arrest powers


The current anti-terrorism sections of the Criminal Code already contain provisions for preventive arrest, preventive detention and preventive restraints on liberty. Preventive detention is at odds with our legal tradition of only prosecuting and punishing crimes that have been committed already, and only after those offences have been proven by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. Preventive detention—i.e., detention on the suspicion that someone may or will commit a crime at some point in the future—is the opposite of that legal tradition and is inconsistent with the constitutionally protected right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.[12]

Prior to the enactment of the 2001 anti-terrorism provisions, the only other preventive detention scheme in the Criminal Code was the dangerous offender regime.[13] But to be found a dangerous offender or a long-term offender under Part XXIV of the Criminal Code, an offender must have been already convicted of a serious personal injury offence, and there must be evidence that the individual constitutes a threat to the life, safety, or physical and mental well-being of other persons based on evidence of repetitive or persistent serious criminal behaviour.[14] By contrast, the anti-terrorism Criminal Code provisions permit the arrest and detention of individuals, who have not been convicted or even charged with any offence, based on what they might do.

The current preventive detention scheme is already constitutionally suspect. The proposed amendments in Bill C-51 will further lower the threshold for preventive arrest and detention, increasing the risk that entirely innocent people will be swept up on mere suspicion. Under the current s. 83.3(2) of the Criminal Code, a peace officer is empowered to lay an information and bring an individual before a provincial court judge if the officer:

(a) believes on reasonable grounds that a terrorist activity will be carried out; and

(b) suspects on reasonable grounds that the imposition of a recognizance with conditions on a person, or the arrest of a person, is necessary to prevent the carrying out of the terrorist activity.[15]

Where exigent circumstances exist, or where laying the information would be impractical, the individual may be arrested without a warrant.[16]

The new measures would allow law enforcement agencies to arrest somebody if they suspect that a terrorist act “may be carried out,” instead of the current standard of “will be carried out.” Bill C-51 also substitutes “likely” for “necessary” such that s. 83.3(2) would now enable a peace officer to lay an information or effect a warrantless arrest if the officer:

(a) believes on reasonable grounds that a terrorist activity will may be carried out; and

(b) suspects on reasonable grounds that the imposition of a recognizance with conditions on a person, or the arrest of a person, is necessary likely to prevent the carrying out of the terrorist activity.[17]

Both changes result in a significant lowering of the standard for arrest and detention.

The changes to the law are significant in two respects. The substitution of “may”where it currently says “will” is a significant watering down of the standard. “Will,” when coupled with “reasonable grounds to believe,” denotes evidence-based probability,[18] whereas “may” denotes mere possibility.

The shift from “necessary” to “likely” is equally important. Necessity in this context suggests that the police officer suspects that no measure other than arrest will prevent a terrorist act. Likelihood is not necessity. Under the new provision, the police officer need only suspect that the arrest is more likely than not to prevent terrorist activity.

Canadians do not want government to arrest individuals based on religious and ethnic stereotypes. But under the new standard, it will be nearly impossible to challenge their decisions.

No-fly list powers


Bill C-51 codifies the Minister of Public Safety’s power to put Canadians on a so-called no-fly list, which prevents them from getting on an airplane. The minister can add anyone to the no-fly list on mere suspicion that he or she will engage in an act that would threaten transportation security or travel by air for the purpose of committing an act of terrorism.[19]

Putting someone on the no-fly list is a significant restraint on liberty. And once on the no-fly list, the procedure to have one’s name removed from the list is complex and difficult. Someone on the no-fly list has the right to appeal the minister’s decision to a judge of the Federal Court, but it is a very narrow and futile appeal. It is not nearly enough for the individual to show that the minister was wrong to put them on the no-fly list; they must also show that the minister has acted unreasonably.[20]

Moreover, the review procedures in Bill C-51 for challenging the no-fly list designation incorporates the procedure from the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act’s byzantine security certificate regime. This means the minister can ask the Court to hold part of the hearing in secret—the individual challenging his or her no-fly list designation, their lawyer and the public are excluded from the courtroom when the government presents its case.[21] The judge hearing the appeal can base his or her entire decision on evidence that was presented during the secret portion of the hearing.

In 2007, the Supreme Court held that this procedure was unconstitutional under s. 7 of the Charter when applied to the judicial review of the detention of a non-citizen detained pursuant to a security certificate.[22] Although being put on the no-fly list is a less serious restraint on liberty than being subject to a security certificate, s. 7 of the Charter is still triggered, and thus the core protections of s. 7, such as the right to know the case to meet, should apply. The currently proposed procedure unequivocally violates that right.[23]

Clayton C. Ruby is one of Canada’s leading lawyers, an outspoken proponent of freedom of the press, a prominent member of the environmental community and a member of the Order of Canada. Nader R. Hasan practises criminal and constitutional law at both the trial and appellate levels and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law. They are partners at Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan Barristers.

Endnotes


[1] Roach, Kent and Forcese, Craig, “Bill C-51 Backgrounder #1: The New Advocating or Promoting Terrorism Offence” (February 3, 2015). Available at SSRN: .

[2] Criminal Code, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46, s. 319(2).

[3] Criminal Code, s. 163.1(b).

[4] Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-23, s. 21.

[5] Government of Canada, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, “History of CSIS”, online: .

[6] Ibid.

[7] ATA, s. 21.1(2).

[8] Criminal Code, s. 504.

[9] Criminal Code, s. 487.

[10] Government of Canada, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Public Report 2011-2013, online
[11] Government of Canada, Security Intelligence Review Committee, “SIRC at a Glance”, online: .

[12] Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 7 and s. 11(d).

[13] Criminal Code, Part XXIV.

[14] Criminal Code, s. 753.

[15] Criminal Code, section 83.3(2).

[16] Criminal Code, S. 82.3(4).

[17] ATA, s. 17.

[18] See R. v. Brown (2012), 92 C.R. (6th) 375 (Ont. C.A.) (for discussion of “reasonable grounds”).

[19] ATA, s. 8.

[20] ATA, s. 16(5).

[21] ATA, 16(6)(a).

[22] Charkaoui v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), [2007] 1 S.C.R. 350 at paras. 53-64.

[23] Ibid.

This Week in the Politics of Energy and Conflict

Politics, Geopolitics & Conflict: Global Energy Advisory

via OilPrice.com


27th February 2015


Al-Shabaab Reaches for Stature


The Somali militant group Al-Shabaab—pushed back in Somalia largely by African Union (AU) forces and forced to regroup—has released a video calling on jihadists to attack shopping centers in Western countries, most specifically the US, UK and Canada, and is threatening more terrorist attacks in neighboring Kenya, an emerging East African oil giant. Specific Western targets are listed as the Mall of America in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada and the Westfield Mall in Stratford, UK.

The FBI says there is no evidence supporting an imminent attack on the Mall of America, but intelligence-sharing is not exactly the forte of US intelligence agencies. At this point we would view the threat against Kenya as the most viable and investors on this oil scene should be on full alert. The Western mall threats are likely two-pronged, with the primary goal of winning new recruits by harnessing the momentum of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. Keep in mind, though, that while Al-Shabaab may not be a large group and it has been dispersed and had many of its power bases destroyed, it has a formidable intelligence unit of its own that has strategically taken over since the AU hit out at the group’s key positions.

Another High-Profile Kazakh Drama


There has been an interesting development in the murky world of the Kazakh elite. Rakhot Aliev, the former son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev who turned harsh critic of the president, has been found dead in his jail cell in Vienna, Austria. The death is being reported as a suicide.

Aliyev turned himself in to Austrian authorities in June last year. He was wanted on murder charges and charges of attempting to overthrow Nazarbaev—charges he claimed were politically motivated, and the Austrians had refused to extradite him to Kazakhstan. Aliev’s lawyer said he seriously doubted his client had killed himself.

Early presidential elections will be held in Kazakhstan this year, and Aliev was a thorn in the side of Nazarbaev—threatening to disclose damaging information about the president’s dealings. Nazarbaev has been in power since the Soviet era, and Aliev—previously married to Nazarbaev’s daughter, Darigha, formerly served as the deputy chief of the National Security Committee. He certainly has information from his work at the committee and his marriage into the family that could damage Nazarbaev.

In 2007, Aliev was targeted in the investigation into the abduction and execution of two Kazakh bankers, at which point he fled to Austria, where he had previously served as ambassador. The Austrian authorities investigated the abductions and executions on their own in 2011, and in December 2014 charged him with the murders. In 2008, a Kazakh court had sentenced him to 40 years in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government and, in connection to this plot, to being behind an organized group orchestrating abductions. Then in 2013, he was charged (in absentia) for ordering the assassination of an opposition leader and his two associates.

Russia-Iran Deal Hits Dead End


Negotiations between Russia and Iran over a swap of oil for industrial goods have been blocked because Moscow is having a hard time finding buyers for the oil. There is fear among potential buyers of what the response in Washington would be given sanctions on both Iran and Russia. There has been a lot of talk recently about the potential for Russia-Iran relations to tighten, but we see no evidence that this is actually happening, nor are we convinced that Iran actually views this as beneficial at this time.

It is easy to say that Washington’s moves against Moscow since it annexed Crimea in March last year would push it closer to Iran. But there are two sides to this relationship, and Iran does not seem to be pursuing this whole-heartedly. At the end of the day, the only real deal the two were working on was the oil-for-industrial goods deal, which now seems to have been stopped in its tracks.

Regulations, Legislation & Arbitration


• The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled in a 4-3 decision that cities and towns in the state cannot enact fracking bans through their zoning laws. This means that the court has effectively overturned a Munroe Falls ordinance that banned Beck Energy from fracking in the town. Beck Energy had sought to drill on residential property in Munroe Falls with the owner's permission and with a permit from Ohio's Department of Natural Resources. The back and forth rulings stem from residents’ concerns surrounding a recent study indicating that fracking had triggered 400 small earthquakes in 2013, and the potential for methane gas to leak from fracking wells close to residential communities. A flash incident that caused 25 families in eastern Ohio to be evacuated after a nearby fracking well sprung a leak fueled these concerns.

• The state of New York’s decision to ban fracking in December has led to 15 Southern Tier towns threatening to secede and join Pennsylvania. Presently, these towns—represented by a group calling itself the Upstate New York Towns Association--are conducting studies to determine whether it would be economically feasible to join Pennsylvania, where natural gas drilling is booming and there is no ban on fracking. The group is also comparing tax rates, business expenses and costs of living between the two states. The study is scheduled to be released in a matter of weeks. This puts a new spin on the fracking debate if the issue can actually lead to the reshaping of the US.

• The US Interior Department has proposed the first-ever federal regulations for oil and natural-gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The proposed regulations would require companies to prepare extensive contingency plans for swift responses to potential oil spills. The proposal shortens the drilling season and requires nearby backup rigs.

• A Russian court has refused to grant Rosneft access to a gas pipeline which is part of the Far East Sakhalin 2 project's infrastructure. Rosneft plans to appeal the decision. Rosneft had requested access to the pipeline to reduce spending on its LNG project with ExxonMobil. State-run Gazprom owns 50% plus one share in Sakhalin Energy, had turned down Rosneft’s request before it went to court, saying that it planned to expand its own LNG plant within the Sakhalin-II project.

Discoveries, Deals, Mergers & Acquisitions


• Murphy Cameroon Ntem Oil has agreed to transfer its 50% interest and operatorship of the Ntem Concession, offshore Cameroon, to Sterling Energy. Sterling will not pay any consideration for the stake and the transaction is subject to Cameroon Ministerial approval. Sterling Cameroon will operate and hold 100% of the Ntem concession after completion of the transaction. The Ntem Concession is a large under-explored block in water depths ranging from 400 to 2,000 meters in the prospective southern Douala – Rio Muni Basin. The minimum work obligation for the current phase of the Ntem Concession was met by the drilling of the Bamboo-1 well in 2014. The well was drilled in 1,600 meters of water and discovered no commercial hydrocarbons.

• Connected to the above (because both Sterling and Gulfsands are Waterford Group investments) UK-based Gulfsands Petroleum has announced that drilling operations on the Douar Ouled Balkhair 1 gas exploration well in Northern Morocco have now concluded with the DOB-1 well being confirmed as a gas discovery. DOB-1 is located within the Rharb Centre permit and it has flowed gas to the surface at a rate in excess of 10mln cubic feet per day. Analysis has indicated a gas bearing sandstone reservoir section with excellent quality. The primary reservoir target was found to have 4.2 meters of gross thickness - 3.7 meters net – with average gas saturation of 70% and porosity of 34%. This comes after Waterford tried to remove the CEO in an early February EGM in opposition to the company’s strategy in Morocco.

• Russia's Eurasia Drilling is delaying a deal to sell a stake to Schlumberger as it awaits approval from Russia's Federal Anti-Monopoly Service. In January, Schlumberger said it planned to buy a 45.65% stake in Eurasia for about $1.7 billion. Eurasia Drilling Company’s share price has dropped over 14% since it announced the delay.

• Anadarko’s Kifaru-1 well in the onshore Rovuma Block in Mozambique has been drilled to a final total depth of 3,100 meters but has failed to find commercial levels of hydrocarbons. The consortium on this block also includes Wentworth (11.59%). Anadarko is the operator with 35.7% interest. Last week, Anadarko said it was negotiating the annual supply of more than 8 million tons of natural gas from Mozambique to Asian customers. The World Bank recently said Mozambique has the largest natural gas deposits in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 20 billion barrels reserves of natural gas in deep waters.

• A Russian-led consortium has been chosen to build and operate Uganda’s $2.5 billion Hoima oil refinery project. Russian RT Global Resources is a subsidiary of Russian defense company Rostec. The RT Global consortium outbid a group led by SK Engineering and Construction Co. of South Korea. Final offers were submitted in January. The refinery will be in western Uganda, near Alberta Lake. Initial refining capacity will be 30,000 barrels per day. The government of Uganda will have a 40% interest in the project, with the Russian-led consortium holding 60%. There is some suspicion that the deal was won with promises of arms deals attached, particularly given the connection here to Rostec. Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov is on the list of Russians subject to sanctions imposed by the European Union because of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

• Shareholders in Canada’s Talisman Energy have voted to approve an $8.3 billion offer from Spain’s Repsol under which a wholly-owned subsidiary of Repsol will acquire all of Talisman’s outstanding shares. 99% of shareholders voted in favor of the agreement. Repsol will also assume Talisman's $4.7 billion long-term debt.

• Kenya will begin work landmark work next month on a massive regional infrastructure project--the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) project—that stands to turn the country into THE East African energy hub. The project will include a port, new roads, a railway and a pipeline by 2030 that will give landlocked South Sudan and Ethiopia access to the Indian Ocean. The price tag on the project is in the neighborhood of $25.5 billion. In 2013, officials said a consortium led by China Communications Construction Co Ltd had won a $449 million contract to build the first three berths of the port. Kenya could start exporting oil as soon as next year, led by UK-based Tullow, which is trying to fast-track production plans in the Lokichar basin.

Just Why Would Young Canadians Go Off to Fight in Syria?

Not Difficult to Figure Out Why Young People Join ISIS

by Sandra Finley - The Battles


Please forward this to anyone you know who is an RCMP or police officer, or who works in security forces. Thanks!

It is not difficult to put forward a likely reason why some young Canadians are going to Syria to join the “terrorists”.

In 2010 I was contacted through social media by a young sister of Omar Khadr’s who had read a posting of mine. She was desperate, using facebook to raise awareness, getting help to bring her brother home.

My posting contained reports from the pre-trial hearing in 2010 of the depraved and highly illegal torture of 15-year-old Omar Khadr at offshore American prisons. (If my son had been treated the same I would hate the perpetrators.)

So figure it out. Lots of young Canadians KNOW what happened to Omar Khadr at the hands of we ourselves – “Westerners”. It was truly gross, unimaginable that humans can do these things to any living creature, let alone a 15-year-old boy.

I don’t know the number of young people who are “in the know”; a large number joined the support groups for Omar Khadr. People became well-informed through the sharing of information. There is lots in the public domain about the failure of the Canadian Government to get Khadr out of Guatanamo, a known place of torture – all of the Western nations, except Canada, arranged for their citizens to be removed. We joined the evil-doers.

Injustice is not forgotten


I can see young people, altruistic and idealistic, going off to help fight “the demons” (depraved Westerners).
 
. . . Something else, let’s see how much media coverage this gets: it is now known that the leader of ISIS was imprisoned by the Americans in 2004 and later released. See 2015-02-19 One year in US custody as ‘civilian detainee’: Declassified files shed light on mysterious ISIS leader
Who knows what he was subjected to? He was not in Bagram or Abu Ghraib. Even IF (best case scenario) he did not receive the torture inflicted on others, he would have known about the torture being done to his countrymen.

If you, a young man, had done to your manhood what was done to prisoners, my understanding of human behaviour leads me to believe that you would be so full of hatred, you would be out for revenge, big time. 
 
What goes around comes around.

As Pogo said, “I have seen the enemy and he is us.” Sad but true.

Kids going off to Syria are as likely to be idealists as they are to be “terrorists”.
 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

US, UK, Poland and Canada Promise Ukraine Military Gear and "Trainers" Despite Minsk Agreement

UK joins US, Poland in sending military trainers to Ukraine

by Jean Shaoul - WSWS

26 February 2015

Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain is to send military “advisors” and “nonlethal aid” to Ukraine. The purpose, according to defence sources, is to “improve the survivability” of Ukrainian troops who have taken a beating from separatist forces in the east of the country.

The move is widely seen as a bid by Cameron in the run up-to the general election in May to counter criticism from the military and political establishment that Britain has become virtually invisible on the international arena. A parliamentary committee denounced the government for not being “active or visible enough” in dealing with the situation in Ukraine.

More crucially, it signifies that Washington and London are determined to arm Ukraine, up the ante against Russia, and further undermine the ceasefire agreed between Russia, France, Germany and the Ukrainian regime at Minsk earlier this month.

Britain’s deployment of a training force coincides with the deployment of a US battalion to train Ukrainian battalions, and expectations that other NATO countries will follow suit.

After the US announcement that it could directly arm the right-wing regime in Kiev at the beginning of the month, leading European officials publicly acknowledged that the world was on the verge of “total” war between NATO and Russia. London is joining the US and Polish governments in aggressively arming Ukraine and stoking the risk of world war.

Polish Defence Ministry official Boguslaw Pacek announced yesterday that Warsaw would send military advisors to help train Ukrainian non-commissioned officers.

The Ukrainian government is also trying to obtain military support from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key US ally in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of backing the separatists and failing to abide by the Minsk ceasefire, though he admitted that there had been a lull in the fighting. “To date, neither Russia nor the forces it is supporting have come close to complying with their commitments,” he said, renewing warnings that Moscow would face further sanctions.

Cameron promised, “What we need to do now is deliver the strongest possible message to Putin and to Russia that what has happened is unacceptable. These ceasefires need to hold and if they don’t, there’ll be more consequences, more sanctions, more measures.”

Shortly afterwards, Royal Air Force jets were scrambled to escort two Russian military aircraft seen off the Cornwall coast, although both the prime minister and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon acknowledged that they had not entered British airspace.

Britain will be sending 75 trainers to western Ukraine in the next few weeks to provide instruction in command procedures, tactical intelligence, battlefield first aid, logistics, and the planning and execution of urban operations. They will also assess the training needs of the army’s infantry.

While Britain has deployed troops as part of NATO exercises in Ukraine, this is the first explicit British mission there.

Fallon denied that this was the beginning of a wider deployment of troops and claimed that there would be no mission creep. “We are not deploying combat troops to Ukraine and we will not do so,” he said, adding: “We should come to the help of a friend in need.”

In the next breath, however, he acknowledged that his officials were looking at what other training might be needed, in addition to that announced on Tuesday.

He also said that the Ukrainian government had requested all kinds of military equipment, but insisted that “at this stage” any British military supplies would be “nonlethal,” an indication that heavy weaponry as well as “nonlethal” supplies are indeed being actively considered.

Cameron called on the European Union to examine wide-ranging sanctions on Russia’s economy, which is already on the rocks due to the fall in oil prices.

His move to send British troops to Ukraine has the Labour Party’s support, according to Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones. In what amounted to a call for stepped-up intervention, he asked how the plan accorded with “broader NATO strategy” on Ukraine, and “what the overall objective of the deployment is and how long has it been in the planning.”

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for military and technical cooperation while attending the IDEX military trade fair in Abu Dhabi.

In the wake of the virtual secession of the eastern manufacturing belt of the country following the Berlin and Washington-backed fascist-led coup a year ago, Ukraine has been forced to find new suppliers for its armed forces. Poroshenko said that Ukrainian companies had signed contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to accelerate the modernisation of its armed forces.

The UAE is the fourth-largest arms purchaser in the world, buying mainly from the US and to a lesser extent, France. Thus, any military deal between Ukraine and the UAE must have US approval.

The semi-feudal Gulf monarchy that presides over a migrant labour force forced to live in slave-like conditions is—in terms of arms per capita—the most heavily armed country on the planet. It has tried to build up its own defence manufacturing capacity and taken an increasingly open military role, sending forces to Kosovo and Afghanistan, and carrying out airstrikes in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters at the IDEX trade show, Poroshenko said that he hoped that Washington would agree to provide arms to Ukraine. He had reportedly planned to meet chief Pentagon weapons buyer Frank Kendall at the show.

He said of his talks with Washington, “We are in a very practical dialogue, and we hope in the very near future, we have a decision to help us attain defensive weapons.”